Friday, March 19, 2021

China exploits pandemic to position itself as No.1

As the global vaccine rollout continues with the hope it may bring an end to the global pandemic, there is one country in particular that is exploiting the vacuum left in its wake.

Whilst the virus may have originated in China [something China disputes], the country swiftly dealt with the spread, using draconian action, and has largely returned to normal.

There have been relatively minor outbreaks over the last year, but on the whole life in China is back to normal for many people. And with that normality the economy has stabilized and even grown.

And as life returns to normal in China so has normalcy returned to China's game politique.

Plans for the future

Over the last fortnight China's leadership congregated for the annual political gathering for the so-called 2 sessions . In the Chinese government, the term refers to the annual plenary sessions of the national or local People's Congress and the national or local committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

But while this year's session was somewhat different given it was being held amid a global pandemic, in many respects it was back to business as usual with China laying out its plan for the next 5 years, militaristically, economically and globally.

Key in Xi Jinping's plan for China is to double the country's economy in 15 years meaning a 4.7% increase every year. Currently China's GDP is around $15.5 trillion and its goal is to double it to more than $30 trillion [CGTN - YouTube].

Building China's military

It all appears to be part of what it perceives is a necessary plan to fund China's military which Xi wants to build to equal or even surpass that of the US.

China increased its 2021 defence budget by 6.8% to 1.35 trillion yuan [$209 billion], up from a 6.6% hike the previous year. The increase in spending, which has grown year on year for at least the last decade, is entirely affordable according to the Global Times which put China's annual defence spending at around 1.3% of GDP, far below an average global level of 2.6%.

China claims the need to build its military is due to an ever growing threat, particularly from the United States which it says was guilty of "repeated military provocations" by using warships and planes for reconnaissance of China's coastal regions as well as conducting military exercises close to China's territorial waters.

China also cites Taiwan as a reason to build its military strength and points to the provocative action displayed by the US in selling the disputed territory advanced weaponry [NYT / SCMP].

Defence or Offence

China claims its military build is all about defence. But while China has yet to display offensive action in conventional terms it has repeatedly been responsible for hacking into foreign computer servers from private companies to government systems.

Most recently China was blamed for hacking into Microsoft's servers [Wikipedia]. According to Microsoft, the attack was initially perpetrated by the Hafnium hacking group, which Microsoft alleged to be "state-sponsored and operating out of China".

It is not the first time China has been blamed for launching cyberattacks and hacking. From Google's claims of cyberattacks in late 2009 and early 2010, said to be part of a wider hacking enterprise known as Operation Aurora, to McAfee's Operation Shady Rat report, there is clear evidence showing China's concerted and sustained cyberattacks on western companies, institutions and governments.

In May 2013, the US DoD for the first time directly accused the Chinese government and military of cyber espionage against US networks.

The DoD's 2013 Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China states, ''In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military.'' The report then states, ''China is using its computer network exploitation capability to support intelligence collection against the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs.''

However despite harsh words from Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and the incumbent Joe Biden, China has continued with its activities whilst claiming that such accusations are not based in fact and that China itself is often the target of cyberattacks.

Following hacking claims in 2014 China's then foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei repeated the official line blasting the United States' cyber espionage track record and that "China opposes and severely cracks down on all forms of cyber-hacking."

While China has not responded to the latest series of attacks by Hafnium  its position is unlikely to have changed [BBC / Sky News / CNN] .


The strategy behind China's espionage campaign is multifold. In part, it is economic. By acquiring information concerning the manufacture of technology it can position itself as a leading competitor of manufactured goods whilst not having had to invest vast sums of money.

Some too is to gain advantage militaristically speaking, be it the development of stealth or supersonic jets such as the J-20 or advancing its journey into space. It is widely believed that China stole stealth fighter technology, even smuggling parts of an F-117A , downed during the Balkans conflict, back to the mainland [tvnewswatch-China stole stealth fighter technology].

China is also setting its sights further afield with plans for a lunar base. However it is not going it alone. China is joining hands with Russia to develop what it calls a "complex of experimental research facilities created on the surface and/or in the orbit of the moon" [Guardian].

China was late into space, sending its first astronaut into orbit in 2003 [Guardian]. However in less than twenty years China's space program has achieved much from developing space weapons, to launching its own satellites, manned spaceflight and landing unmanned probes on the moon.

Of particular concern is China's ability to destroy satellites in orbit around the Earth. One of the first observed such events was as far back as January 2007 [tvnewswatch-China tests space weapon / Wikipedia]. But since then China's efforts have ramped up with Russia also believed to have developed similar technology [BBC].

Unrestricted warfare

All of these technological developments appear to be gathered together in order to launch what some call an asymmetrical assault on the West.

Such an assertion is nothing new. The threat of concerted cyberattacks are at least a decade old. Evidence, such as laid out in the book Unrestricted Warfare, makes clear that China's dominance, defence or the ability to win any future war, will only be achieved by employing every 'weapon', conventional and unconventional, at its disposal [tvnewswatch-cyber-warfare threat posed by China / tvnewswatch-China increase military to win local wars / tvnewswatch-China's divided loyalties].

Offence or Self-Defence?

Historically speaking China has not been an overtly warring nation, at least in recent history. Like most nation states, China does have a violent history. The country has battled with invaders from the Japanese, see the Nanjing massacre, and fought against colonialists, see the Boxer rebellion.  And China did participate in both the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Most conflicts over the ages have been internal ones, such as the so-called Warring States period c.260BC. Such periods of history could be likened to similar local conflicts seen in Britain and Europe which saw the forming of nations. Having essentially defined its borders China has held off from a colonialist approach much seen in the West. Nor has it sought to invade and take territories, or intervene in other conflicts [China at War].

Vietnam and Korean wars aside, which arguably could be seen as defending its neighbours and its own borders, China has not become embroiled in conflicts further afield.

It is arguable that China has been aggressive in its taking of Tibet and other neighbouring regions, but these conflicts and its moves concerning Taiwan, the Diaoyu Islands and the Arandul Pradesh region near India are different in as much as they are territorial disputes.

So is China's military build one of defence or offence? In some ways it could well be argued that China is merely attempting to strengthen its own country and to become self-sufficient. While on the face of it, China's hacking is indeed aggressive and often destructive, much is an attempt to glean information in order to build its own economy and infrastructure without the costly R&D.

Pots & Kettles

The West has continually accused China of IP theft, which of course some Chinese companies have exploited by selling cheap technology to the West which China of course benefits. But the West too has been guilty of such practices in the past. Throughout its colonialist past the west has exploited other countries of resources and technology. Two wrongs do not make a right, but the West's criticism of China, specifically concerning IP theft, is somewhat disingenuous and amounts to the pot calling the kettle black.

In terms of exploitation of resources China and the West are both equally guilty. But again, while the West throughout the last three centuries often simply stole resources from underdeveloped countries and continents such as India, China and Africa, China has sought in recent years to payback the like of Zambia, where it has mined much copper, by helping build roads and developed other infrastructural projects.

China has exploited every opening door to make profit and build its country further. Its Belt and Road Initiative is something which is almost unparalleled in global economic history and further strengthens China while increasing the world's reliance on China.

Pandemic slowdown

However, the global pandemic has slowed the global economy. And with that slowdown China's footprint has also retracted. With less custom abroad, China is refocusing its efforts on internal markets [CNBC / CGTN].    

China is now rich enough to go it alone and with increased hostility coming from the West there is a distinct possibility that just as China opened up to the West in the 1980s, it could just as easily shut its doors once again.

Effectively, the pandemic has already shut man doors on China. Visas issued before March 2020 have been revoked and visa centres around the globe have been shut for some months making it virtually impossible to visit China. As such China is learning to do without foreign tourism. Equally a slowdown in foreign exports has forced China to refocus on its domestic economy.

Pointing fingers

China is certainly no angel when it comes to its domestic agenda. Politically it has been aggressive when quelling Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. And its anti-Islamic terror drive has essentially tarred all Uighers with the same brush and become what many outside China describe as a form of genocide.

The West has continually pointed fingers at China over human rights abuses, hacking and IP theft. But China has shrugged off such criticism.  

It has all come to a head this week when a meeting between China and the US descended into bickering with each side sharply criticizing the other over human rights, trade and international alliances [Time].

China is unlikely to care much. It is already building strong alliances with Russia. Its economy is growing and building towards self sufficiency. And in many ways is surpassing much of the world technologically speaking.

Recently commentator and comedian Bill Maher described the US as a "silly people" who can't get anything done while China steams ahead into the future. Maher rightly points out that there are issues when it comes to China, but asks if there might not be a middle way between an authoritarian dictatorship that gets things done, compared to a representative democracy that doesn't get anything done [YouTube].

It might not have the military prowess of the United States but who is going to start a war with China? But in almost every other respect China has surpassed the US and the West.

China has 40,000km of high-speed railway, more than double the total that exists elsewhere globally. And the US has no high-speed rail network at all. In the last two generations China has built more than 500 cities from scratch, rolled out a mobile network where there are virtually no dead spots and has a health service that, while not free at source for all, is fast rivalling many western countries.

Some are concerned that the West will lose out to China. There has not been a war with China, but China has already won. As Sun Tzu [孫子] once said in his strategic book Art of War "the skillful leader subdues the enemy without any fighting". China is the global factory and hold much US debt. As such any criticism thrown at China by the US will only amount to empty rhetoric. Mao Zedong oft used to criticise the US calling them a paper tiger [Zhilaohu - 纸老虎]. When Mao died in 1976, nothing could have been further from the truth. Forty five years on the tables have turned.     

There has been very little fighting but China has virtually beaten its enemy, at least economically speaking.

tvnewswatch, London, UK